First Net-Zero School Slated for Alexandria, VA

Across the globe, the number of net-zero energy buildings is on the rise. In 2020 the New Buildings Institute (NBI) estimated there were at least 700 in the United States alone. Net-zero buildings cost less to operate while providing healthy, comfortable, and attractive indoor environments. It is no surprise that this sustainable building boom has also led to the construction of more efficient schools. Studies show that net-zero K-12 schools consume 65 to 80 percent less energy than conventionally constructed schools, offer educational opportunities for students, help communities achieve carbon-neutrality goals, and prioritize sustainable communities.

In 2019, the City of Alexandria adopted a green building policy with standards that established green building practices for its own public buildings and for new private developments. The Alexandria County Public School (ACPS) system in Virginia is in the process of modernizing the aging elementary facilities in its portfolio. The first school being built with net-zero principles is Douglas MacArthur Elementary which first opened in 1943 to serve families who came to the greater Washington, DC region to support the war effort. After almost 80 years, its building envelope has deteriorated beyond repair and needs replacement.

The planned 150,000-square-foot school will accommodate spaces for classrooms, art and music rooms and physical education. Outside the walls of the school, the site will be home to new turf fields, pedestrian safe drop-off zones and driveways, basketball courts and playground areas. Scheduled to open in 2023, this new environmentally friendly facility will continue to serve students from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade, replacing the former 65,000-square-foot school.

As a net-zero school, the amount of energy that will be produced onsite by renewable sources at Douglas MacArthur Elementary will match the energy used by the building and its occupants. Some of the notable net-zero design features of the project include:

  • Geothermal system: Located under an artificial turf field, the systems feature deep wells 100s to 1000s of feet deep that collect water from ground to power its mechanical systems.
  • Photovoltaic panels: A movable array of panels on the roof adjusts itself to point to the azimuth of the sun to efficiently capture light for conversion to energy, reducing the building’s demand for electricity from the grid.
  • Passive systems: The building design includes many passive features such as maximizing natural daylight and ventilation from the outdoors and, low- and no-VOC paint, carpets and tile.
  • Rain capture: The roof is designed to collect rainwater to recycle for use in flushing toilets and other building systems.
  • Bathrooms: Instead of gang-style bathrooms that are typically found in schools, Douglas McArthur Elementary will feature individual bathrooms with low flush toilets and low water use sinks.

An underground parking garage is included in the project maximizing the campus’s recreational possibilities and increasing its aesthetic appeal with expansive green space surrounding the new building that connects to the wooded areas behind the school. The new facility is designed to provide its elementary school students with a variety of indoor and outdoor play and creativity spaces. ACPS is grounding its design decisions in extensive research showing that high-quality learning environments are major contributors to improved learning outcomes for children and morale of the school community.

In the greater Washington region, we also worked on another high-profile sustainable project the innovative 150,000-square-foot headquarters facility for the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water). The new building features a SHARC wastewater thermal system, the first use of this technology in the US, which allows DC Water to utilize the city’s wastewater as a source of thermal energy to condition the building. It is located on the site of the existing O Street Pump Station along the waterfront of the Anacostia River in Southeast DC.

Bio: Apryl Webb, AVS, LEED AP Vice President – Preconstruction, Skanska

Apryl Webb is responsible for the cost estimating, GMP development and value engineering analysis. She also has a staff of architectural, structural, civil, mechanical and electrical estimators available to support the preconstruction effort as required. Apryl works with key members of the project team to develop the bid packages and determine best value recommendations as well as review constructability, site utilization and scheduling.

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